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Dedication of the Tomb of the Unknowns: November 11, 1921

Body of Unknown Soldier taken off the USS OlympiaOn November 11, 1921, President Harding presided over the dedication of the Tomb of the Unknowns, also commonly called the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which originally honored fallen American servicemen from World War I whose remains had not been identified.

Congress approved the creation of the memorial in March 1921. To ensure that the identity of the American really was unknown, the bodies of four unidentified WWI servicemen were disinterred from various French cemeteries. They were placed in identical caskets and brought to Chalons-sur-Marne, France, where Sgt. Edward F. Younger, a war hero, selected one of the four caskets at random during a ceremony at the city hall on October 24.

Pres. Harding and Gen. Pershing participate in funeral procession for Unknown SoldierThe selected casket was placed on board the USS Olympia during another ceremony and sent to the United States, where it arrived on November 9. The casket was brought with much dignity to the Capitol, where the casket was put on public display on the 10th. An estimated 90,000 people came to pay their respects to the Unknown Soldier—so many that the rotunda was kept open until midnight to accommodate them all.

On the morning of November 11, the newly declared Armistice Day holiday, the enormous funeral procession for the Unknown Solider proceeded from the Capitol to Arlington National Cemetery. During the funeral at Arlington’s Memorial Amphitheater, President Harding gave a speech and bestowed the Medal of Honor and Distinguished Service Cross on the Unknown Soldier; other nations also bestowed their highest honors.

Unknown Soldiers from WWII and Korea interred at ArlingtonThe casket was then moved to the tomb, where a funeral service was read, and then officials and dignitaries laid wreaths and other tributes. The funeral ended with the playing of Taps and a 21-gun salute.

At the time of the burial, the tomb had yet to be completed. The marble structure that now stands was installed in 1932 and bears the inscription “Here Rests in Honored Glory an American Soldier Known but to God.” Unknown soldiers representing the fallen of World War II and the Korean War were laid to rest at the monument in 1958. A soldier from the Vietnam War was interred at the monument in 1984, but through DNA testing the body was positively identified in 1998 and returned to his family.

If you’re interested in honoring your own family’s military heroes, consider creating or expanding a Memorial Page for them on Fold3’s Honor Wall.

68 Comments

  1. What an honor!

  2. Was it really a 21-gun salute, with 21 cannon firing one after another, or was it the traditional funeral salute of three rifle volleys?

    • Typically, a 21 gun salute are volley’s from rifles, not canons.

    • The 21 gun salute was individual cannon shots, usually seven shots from each of three cannon. This allows time for each cannon to reload while the others fire. The rifle salutes are given by seven riflemen firing three volleys simultaniously with enough time (a few seconds) between volleys to recock, aim and fire.

    • It was a 21 gun, not the three volley. Cannon salute is reserved for notables- Presidents, High ranking officers, etc. Source- Military funerals in Washington DC.

  3. Just another tid bit not taught in elementary school. Thanks for the info.

    • A book was published which gives all the details of “State Funerals” in the late 19th and 20th century. The level of detail in the book may give you an answer.

  4. My father Walter N. Bradburn served in World War l. Fortunately he came home although not untouched. He served in t he Calvary in France & was in charge of the stock & dispersing it to the field. He was kicked in the head by a horse & had a metal plate in his head, he was also shot in the leg, and suffered what today would be called PTSD. I confess my ignorance, I knew this was the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, but did not know the history behind it. What a great thing President Harding did to honor our Servicemen & Women. I greatly believe that adding an unknown soldier from every conflict is what we as American/s should do. May all of our Unknown Soldiers & the brave Soldiers that have died protecting our Country….REST IN PEACE!

    • With DNA there should be no more Unknown Soldiers. One boy from our small town was identified by the piece of his backbone, that was all that was left after 55 years in a jungle. Dillonvale, OH a town of 1,000 in 1945 lost 29 boys, some have never been recovered.

  5. I wasn’t there, and the article does not make it clear, but I suspect that the deceased received an actual 21 gun salute, with separate shots from a saluting gun separated by intervals, as would be done for a U. S. president. Any military burial is normally entitled to 3 volleys of 7 rifles, but only officers of flag rank senior government officials and the like are entitled to an actual gun salute. Perhaps fold3 will check this out and clarify.

    • So you are say any soldiers who aren’t officers are pond scum and not entitled to honors?

    • Bravo Zulu Mr. Poole, You got it right. In regards Jonathan’s comment to your post, Not pond scum, just not senior officer. While the President gets a 21 Gun Salute, unless he is a military veteran, he does NOT get three volleys fired over his grave. This honor is reserved for veteran’s and active duty servicemen only.

    • A Congressional Medal of Honor recipient is saluted by the Commander in

      Chief This out ranks them all

    • At the dedication of Pershing Square in Los Angeles around 1961 I believe ten cannon shots were slated to be fired. However because of the vast amount of windows in the buildings close to the Square it was limited to three.
      The ‘Square’ has never recovered as it went through a series of bad designs up to today. The Pershings never liked what they did – as if it mattered.
      JJC G.G.Nephew Pershing.

    • PS Any relation to Jean Poole in Pasadena -of the Bruce clan?

  6. THEY WERE ALL HEROES ! ! !
    Pvt. John G. Roby, age 25, HQ Co. 58th Infantry Regt, 4th Infantry Division, was KIA October 6, 1918. A letter from his wife, announcing the birth of their son on September 24th, was returned unopened. Pvt. Roby lies with his fallen comrades-in-arms in Arlington National Cemetery. There also is a monument at his beloved Mt. Carmel Church, Arthur, West Virginia.
    “And he that comes safe home, will stand a-tip-toe when this day is named….
    We few, we happy few, we band of brothers….” LEST WE FORGET ! ! !
    Vietnam Vet (Class of 1974-75)

    • Well said Stephen , Hopefully tis article opens some doors to the American people and their Understanding of War and the life and Duties of American Soldiers ; Their dedication to Obedience and Sacrifice for Freedom. Some of us have lived through the War to Explain it…But Few Listen !
      Vietnam Vet. ( Class of 1970 )

    • I , am A VIET NAM VET And Dam BROUD of it, In My book,all military personal who were willing to pay the ‘VERY HIGH PRISE’ of freadom, and many,many; did are all heroe’s; although some of us doint look at it that way, inclouding my self,’we were just doing a job that needed to be done , and all are intitled to an 18 rifile salute, a cannon may be requested by family if they wish, but many families do not know this, it was started durung our civial war. …..Only proplem, cannon’s are very loud and coumbersom,,yes and no, officers of high rank, presdent’s and [hero’s are intitled to a 21,[ gun ] “salute”, and choise of of where to be laid to rest. …..I am a Bronze Star {recipeint}, but dont consider my self a “hero”, the real hero’s are now in there finial resting peacfull place. …..I have the choice to be buried at arlington, or a national,or evean a locail cementayr, whith a “military section”. …..I chose to be buried hear in my home town with my wife, but the one thing I am intitled is a full [real] military honores, which is the one and only time that [My wife] insiest’s I am treated as a {hero} so to all the scum bags, who think all military people ar NOT intitled to a military, and an 18,19,20,or 21 [gun] salute, is full of [seara hotell inda tango]. paul

    • WELCOME HOME and THANK YOU sir for your service.

    • Wow…..thanks for sharing this, Mr. Herbaugh. It brought tears, You’re so right, they were all heroes.

  7. Why was the DNA testing done on the Vietnam war soldier? Who requested it? Has such testing been done on any soldiers from other wars? Just wondering. Also, was the identified soldier then replaced with a(nother) “unknown”?

    • Sandra,
      I don’t recall the details, but the Joint Forensics Lab in Hawaii knew where the Vietnam remains were found. When DNA testing became available, I think four families were asked to be tested and one proved positive. Ultimately, it was the family’s choice for closure. I don’t think any other Vietnam remains were placed in the Tomb. The ultimate goal is ‘no future unknowns’ and I think some WWII and Korean remains have been identified through voluntary family DNA tests. Steve.

    • Sandra, the family requested to send the person home, and yes D.N.A. can id, any one as long as they somithing to use, such as a blood sample, to match. I hope this helped answer your ? paul

  8. We’ll all stand together for our Vets.

    May God rest their soles and we never forget .

  9. My daughter, a former Marine, was attached to JPAC in Hawaii as a forensic photographer. Their mission is to bring home every soldier from every war and identify them for their families. There is always a ceremony when their remains return to US soil. She spent a lot of time in Vietnam and surrounding countries.

  10. Thank you ” for the lesson in history which should be taught to every child in both , public & private schools across this nation.

    These Men & Women who rest in uniform should ‘ not be forgotten . For they gave their lives for our freedom ..

  11. One interesting aspect of the burial of the Unknown Soldier on Armistice Day 1921 was the transmittal of the ceremony over AT&T long lines to gatherings in New York City and San Francisco. At these sites, thanks to the newly developed sound amplifiers, large audiences were able to hear the proceedings just as if they had been at Arlington that day. Soon the new medium of radio would make available to a much larger national audience such important historical events in our nation’s life.

  12. It is very moving, watching the guards walk their post at the “Tomb of the Unknowns”. I got the opportunity to do so when I was in the service. Every American should go there at least once.

    • Ancestry question. My wife, Nancy Kay Hutton Smeck, born in Ashland, Kentucky, is curious as to possible relationship. Her daddy was William Lindsey Hutton. Tx you,

  13. Just a little info that makes me proud to be a person born and bred in the small county of Cameron in Pennsylvania. The flagstone used surrounding the Tomb of the Unknowns came from our Cameron County in Northwest Pennsylvania.

  14. The marble block that marks the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was quarried in one piece from a marble quarry high in the Colorado Rockies, and was moved out by rail. That rail line is no longer there, although the area of the quarry is approachable by road. The quarry is owned by Vermont Marble, if my information is still current. I don’t think that it is still actively being used.

    • Years ago I hiked up to the quarry and it was amazing looking into it. It had been shut down for ages. Then they opened it and began mining it, I want to say within the last 15 years. Not sure if it is still in operation or not. There are historical markers in the area showing where the train was and showing pix of them bringing the chunk of marble for the Tomb of the Unknowns down from the mountain to be placed on the train. It’s near the town of Marble, Colorado and it’s really interesting, if you ever get a chance to visit.

  15. My father served in France during War to end all wars., and my husband’s father served but not overseas. Both men honored their uniforms, and my husband’s father ate from his mess kit every Armistice day until he died in 1940.
    My father kept his uniform hanging in the entry hall always, and we kids were free to parade around in it if we were careful. My mother-in-law kept her husband’s uniform in her cedar chest at the foot of her bed for the forty years of her widowhood. It now rests at the foot of our bed where even the hat survives uncrushed. In 1973 when we moved to Arlington, VA, one of the first things we did was to visit the Tomb of the Unknowns where the ceremony was quieter than it is today. I still hear the voices of the soldiers as they exchanged places in that dignified setting, and the peacefulness of the simple ceremony stays with me always. There is a lot more pageantry today, but there have been a lot more wars too.

  16. I do not know if they actually fired a 21 Gun Salute or not, But a 21 Gun Salute is typically fired by cannon, and is reserved for the President and foreign heads of state (Ie: Kings etc.) The three Volleys fired at a military funeral, are by rifle and even though there may be seven riflemen each firing three rounds, It is NOT a 21 Gun Salute.

    • Three volleys of seven shots equals 21. Each rifle is loaded with only three rounds.

    • Appreciate the explanation from Honor Guard Commander. Whether the Unknown Soldier received a 21 Gun Salute from 3 cannons or a 3 volley salute from rifles, the fact that they noted the honor at the time indicates it was intended to be a great honor. Ultimately, that’s what really matters. Let us remember and honor all our fallen soldiers this Veteran’s Day.

    • WHAT COUNTRY HONOR GUARD COMMANDER AR YOU FROMe!!!!!!!

  17. I don’t understand why there has been so much dispute over what qualifies as a ’21 Gun Salute”. While it was mentioned, it is NOT what this article is about.

    • This artical IS about that, the guards walk 21 steps, they take 21 seconds to turn and change the rifel frome one hand to the other,as not to [POINT]the weapon at the toumb.

  18. We should honor our unknowns by seeking peace. Only then will they truly rest in peace.

  19. As Vietnam combat veteran, I got chills reading this article and the comments made by others. I was really unaware of the history of the Tomb but for all who did or did not survive the many wars, known and unknown, may God give you and your families peace on this Veterans Day 2014 and to all Vietnam Veterans, Welcome Home.

  20. Do you really have people answering the fold 3 phones. I have a problem and have sent three messages.5 Nov. 2014

  21. getting wrapped around the axle with 21 gun salute is irrevelant let us be thankful for all our veterans and their service i spent 27 yrs in and around the corps but was fortunate enough not to see any form of combat but my wife did and have had friends and relatives that did let us honor all that have or have not come home thank you

  22. We can’t all be heroes.
    Some of us must stand on the curb,
    and cheer as they go by.
    … Will Rogers

  23. My father, John Ambrose Carney (Kearney), served from 1903 until his retirement in the early 30’s. He had lied about his age, claiming he was 21 when he was 19, so he did not make a fuss when the army mispelled his name as Carney instead of Kearney. He fought in the Phillipines and was wounded there by a Maori knife, fought in WWI and came back to teach troops how to defend against mustard gas in the trenches. He wasn’t a hero by most standards but he was my hero whom I loved dearly and still remember with fondness and tears. He died at age 82 un 1966. He had the gun salute at his funeral and the specially folded flag presented to my mother. I’ll put a flag on his grave for Veterans day.

  24. The Viet Nam unknown was later identified as a graduate of Virginia Military Institute. I don’t have all of the data in front of me but mt recollection is taht he was an Air Force pilot from the class of 1966. I will accept any corrections on my memory.

    • When the Vietnam remains were placed in the tomb in 1984, the lab personnel in Hawaii and the casualty personnel in the Pentagon objected. It passed up to the highest levels that there were no unknown remains available, because anticipated improvements in DNA and locating future remains would make it possible to ID those remains that were currently at the lab. It was, however an election year, and the word came down that there would be remains placed in the tomb. They knew the remains that were intombed were those of one of two men. If the other man was found, these would be identified. That is exactly what happened. It was politically more important in 1984 to reach out to Vietnam veterans. I was happy to see that the dedicated casualty personnel were proved right and this man was returned to his family.

  25. I WOULD LIKE TO TAKE THE TIME TO HONOR MY THREE BROTHERS ONE IN THE AIR FORCE DIED IN VIETNAM AND THE OTHER TWO DIED AT HOME TWO SERVED HIS COUNTRY FOR 28 YEARS BEFORE HE WAS FORCE OUT OF SERVICE BECAUSE OF STROKE, HE LATER DIED AT HIS HOME IN VIRGINA AND WAS BURIED AT ARTLINGTON, THE THIRD ONE SERVED IN KOREA AND WAS WOUNDED OVER THERE HE CAME HOME BUT WAS NEVER THE SAME AFTER THAT. EVERY YEAR I LIKE TO STAND OUT FRONT AND LOOK TO THE EAST AND SALUTE, TO THE WEST AND DO THE SAME AND NORTH AND SOUTH. NOT ONLY TO HONOR MY BROTHERS BUT TO THOSE THAT NEVER CAME HOME. I ALSO SERVED MY COUNTRY FROM 1964 TO 1967 AND WAS A VIETNAM VET. AS ONLY IN SERVICE NOT COUNTRY. TO ALL THOSE WHO HAVE SERVED AND WILL SERVE “I SALUTE YOU”

  26. The marble for the Tomb of the Unknowns was furnished by the Vermont Marble Company of Danby, Vt. The marble is the finest and whitest of American marble, quarried from the Yule Marble Quarry located near Marble, Colorado and is called Yule Marble. The Marble for the Lincoln memorial and other famous buildings was also quarried there.

    When Hurricane Isabel struck in September 2003, it was reported on the ABC nightly news that, because of the dangers from Hurricane Isabel approaching Washington, DC, the military members assigned the duty of guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier were given permission to suspend the assignment by their Commander. They refused. “No way, Sir!”

    Soaked to the skin, marching in the pelting rain of a tropical storm, they said that guarding the Tomb was not just an assignment; it was the highest honor that can be afforded to a service person. The tomb has been patrolled continuously, 24/7, since 1930.

  27. To answer those who are asking, it was 21 individual cannons fired one at a time. Those who walk guard over the tomb have the highest possable honor, guarding those who have fallen for their country. It saddens me how hard it is becoming to get an honor guard for a funeral of a veteran due to BUDGET cuts, yet they continue to send billions to countries that support terrorism. The ACLU has attempted on several occasion now to have the inscription changed, as it is not politically correct. Just keep that in mind when you vote, that liberals have no respect for those who have served and paid the ultimate price for OUR freedom!

    • This was a discussion about Vets, dignity , respect, country, ceremony and honor. Please could you leave the politics out. There are young people here who are trying to learn about the USA, not your party affiliation and your agenda. Thanks for your respect.

  28. God Bless Our Veterans: Past and Present. You have my respect and gratitude for your commitment and service to our country. There isn’t a day I don’t think of you and give thanks for your role in securing the freedoms I NEVER take for granted each and every day. Thank you.

    * * * *

    In Flanders fields the poppies blow
    Between the crosses, row on row,
    That mark our place; and in the sky
    The larks, still bravely singing, fly
    Scarce heard amid the guns below,

    We are the Dead. Short days ago
    We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
    Loved and were loved, and now we lie
    In Flanders fields,

    Take up our quarrel with the foe;
    To you from failing hands we throw
    The torch; be yours to hold it high,
    If ye break faith with us who die
    We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
    In Flanders fields.

    ~ Lt. Col. John McCrae

    * * * *

    In Loving Memory of my uncle:

    PFC James J. Baylis (1918-1942)
    KIA: Souk El Arba, Tunisia – November 29, 1942
    1st Armored Division – Co. B – 13th Armored Regiment

  29. Male ego, violence and preying upon each other including all life forms and even the earth itself is in our nature. To learn to relate to the life around us and ‘survive’ with the least harm is the greatest and most necessary goal.
    Relating to the life around us is the greatest reward.
    JJC – G.G.nephew General Pershing … raised by my grandfather Frank Pershing
    … the Generals “Favorite nephew – a fine upstanding man.” Pershing autographed
    in his book ‘My Experiences in the World War’.

  30. As a child I visited the tomb and my father fought in WW2. He did not incur any injuries. I am sure my grandparents also fought in WW1. This article has taught me more than what we learned in school.

  31. In an effort to instill respect the tomb I believe there should be a body from all of the wars Americans have fought in.

  32. Regardless if there is one body or more the monument is significant enough to instill respect, as a veteran of the Vietnam War I respect and honor all those who made the ultimate sacrifice for our country, may God keep them in glory

  33. I WANT TO THANK ALL OF U FOR THE [OVERWELLIMING] COMMENTS, AND, I AS AN [OLD VIET NAM VET ] GET ALL CHOKED UP ON VETERIANS DAY, IM OK UNTILL THEY PLAY “TAPS” THATS WHEN I LOOSE IT, AND CRY LIKE A { BABY} TO THOSE WHO THINK GROWN MEN AND WOMEN WHO WERE IN SERVICE TO THIER COUNTRY, DONT CRY, GUSS AGAIN . ….EVERY TIME I VISIT WDC. AND PUT MY HAND ON THE [WALL] I LOOSE IT, AND THEN WHEN I VISIT THE TOUMB, THAT JUST TEARS ME APART, ANY WAY ; “THANK YOU, AND MY GOD BLESS YOU ALL”.

  34. Thanks so much to everybody for all the posts and the great information. I’ve learned more in reading thru them than I did in 4 years of high school.

  35. Thank you for sharing.
    Since tomorrow is Veterns Day I would like to honor my dad, father-in-law, husband & brother for their dedication in serving in the Armed Forces. Because of them & all the veterns our flag flies freely.

  36. My grandfather wrote the bppk

  37. Thomas Howard kelly. Author of many war stories that were all published

  38. All of these comments have been so wonderful. I am 90 years old and I survived the Great depression and ww2. I had a future husband, 3 brother-in-law and 2 brothers that served . They all volunteered before we were in war. They served proudly and thank God they all made it home. 1 brother and 1 brother-in-law was in the V-day battle. Our USA is still in the Hands of God and when we that know how to pray will Call unto Him He will show us great and mighty things. God bless our country. Emma